Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Kidnapped Santa Claus - L. Frank Baum

Author: L. Frank Baum
Date: 1904
Setting: Laughing Valley, where Santa Claus lives
Availability: Read A Kidnapped Santa Claus on line, free

Story: Santa Claus, along with ryls, knooks, pixies and fairies, lives in Laughing Valley, but in the mountains beside the valley are caves where five demons reside. Their caves are connected in a linear fashion. First is Selfishness, then Envy, Hatred, and finally Malice. However, from each of those caves is a narrow passage leading to the cave of the Demon of Repentance. There is no way out of the mountain tunnels except by his cave where there is a little door into the sunshine, which he will open if you come his way.

The demons did not like Santa because he made children happy, and then they did not come to visit the demons’ caves. So on Christmas Eve, the demons capture Santa and take him into the mountains. They try to tempt him to be selfish or envious, and they are sure that the children will receive no toys for Christmas. However, their plot doesn’t work out quite the way they intended

Commentary: Although this is a children’s Christmas story, there is plenty in it to make an adult think. The obvious point of interest is the concept that Repentance is a Demon. Santa has a conversation with this one, where Repentance points out that he is not needed unless one has first made friends with one of his evil friends.

There is an underlying question that is never addressed as to whether toys brought on Christmas can really make a person happy. The story begins with some philosophy, “To laugh one needs to be happy; to be happy one needs to be content.” It seems to me that this contradicts the whole premise of making children happy with gifts, since material things will never bring contentment. The internal message of the story seems confused to me.

Another concept presented is that there will always be evil in the world, but we can make choices about what to do about it. This theme is much more consistently developed.

This story isn’t on the current list of best-loved Christmas classics, probably partly for the dark theme. Although, one could point out the “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” is similar and has become standard holiday fare. Although the author is well-known and respected for his children’s stories, I think this one leaves something to be desired. It has been called one of his “most beautiful stories” by a biographer, but I don’t really see that.

Nevertheless, I would be willing to read it with older children and ask them to talk about it.

Author info: Lyman Frank Baum, 1856-1919, was born in Chittenango, New York, and early in life developed a love of writing and the theatre. In fact, his love for theatre kept him poor throughout his life as he continued to write, back, and produce plays that couldn’t succeed financially. He is best known for his children’s fantasy, especially the Oz series, of which he wrote 16. Many of his plays were destroyed in a fire. Not many children's stories remain classics for over 100 years, but Baum’s Wizard of Oz has stood the test of time.

Unusual Words:
knooks and ryls- magical good characters invented by Baum in the book The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, they are carried over in to this story.

Language skills 6
Depth of meaning 6